On Tuesday morning I got a text from Sabrina Swanson, who lives with her husband Jon in Santa Rosa. “Hey Pastor Steve. It’s Sabrina Swanson. Hope all is well with you. Could you say a prayer in church Sunday for Santa Rosa? My town is ½ burnt to the ground in less than 24 hours….7 lives lost and 100s upon 100s of lively hoods gone. Thanks.” That text stopped me cold. I shared our sadness as a church over this news and assured her that we would be praying for her and the whole town. After these devastating fires, we are humbled again by the forces of nature which, like those of an earthquake or hurricane, bring us to our knees in prayer, make us want to curse, or cry, or all of the above.
At times like this I try to remember that a universe in which God intervened and prevented anything harmful from happening, would be a universe in which nothing truly beautiful could happen either; a world where every action and every event was pre-determined. In such a universe, we could neither truly love one another…nor could we freely love God.
The 12th century rabbi, Moses Maimonides once said: “God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur and sometimes innocents die. To wish it were otherwise is in essence to wish that we were not physical beings at all. But then we would not know pleasure, desire, achievement, freedom, virtue, creativity, vulnerability and love.”
Nothing proves God’s freely given love for us more than Jesus himself, who freely laid down his life for us, suffered for us, and rescued us from the grip of sin and death and hell. Last week a group of Samoan firefighters emerged from the devastating fires in northern California, singing a beautiful hymn that has been playing on the internet. The tune of the song sounds very similar to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” but as one article explained, Fa’afetai I le Atua has to do with praising God for all that he has given us; and the Son of God for coming down from the Heavens and bringing blessing to our lives. These firefighters, risking life and limb in the furnace, emerged from the smoke and flame with a song of gratitude for the gift of life, and the wonder of God’s grace. In the midst of flame and flood, earthquake and gunfire, when it seems we may lose everything, including our own lives, there is a Savior and the gift of life - abundant and everlasting (John 10:10) - which cannot be taken from us. May we continue to trust in this Jesus. Hope to see you soon…